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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Story Secrets: ADIOS, NIRVANA by Conrad Wesselhoeft + giveaway!

It seems like I've been talking about this book all summer, but ADIOS, NIRVANA by my friend and fellow Seattleite Conrad Wesselhoeft is now here!

I didn't even know Conrad until recently, but I'd heard such good things about his writing from our mutual friend Molly Blaisdell, who said we should be friends. We read each other's books, and so we are! We even just did a panel together at Third Place Books in Seattle.

ADIOS, NIRVANA is powerful, poetic, funny, and...savory. As in, you want to savor the flavor of it as you read, and taste each and every nuance. And one of you will get to win a copy (details below).

Welcome, Conrad!


ADIOS, NIRVANA is about a teenaged poet-musician who survives the first anniversary of his twin brother’s death with the help of a dying blind man, the best group of “Thicks” a guy could ask for, a demanding school principal who wants him to play the “pussiest song in the world” at graduation, and one very special guitar.

Holly Cupala: Tell us about the origins of ADIOS!

Conrad Wesselhoeft:
I stumbled upon this quote in a newspaper column: “In darkness, it slowly came to me that what happens to a man isn’t nearly as important as how he meets it.” The author of the quote was Victor Riesel, a labor journalist who was blinded when a mobster flung sulphuric acid in his face.” I jotted Riesel’s words in my journal, then added, spur of the moment: “Story about a young man who becomes a stenographer/writer of a blind man’s life, and in so doing exorcises his own demons.”

In 2007, my agent, Erin Murphy, asked to see some of my ideas for future projects. I sent her a long list. The idea for Adios was buried near the bottom, barely an afterthought, yet it was this idea that spoke loudest to Erin. So the fermentation process began with a nudge from her.

Later that year, my teenage son, Kit, began to bring home a group of buddies who would sit at our kitchen counter, devour microwaved burritos (heavy on the ketchup), talk with abandoned irreverence, and then rush into the living room and jam on guitars and piano. Their combination of humor, appetite, music, and energy was an important part of the creative process for me.

That summer, my father passed away. He’d spent his last year and a half in a hospital room, coping with multiple illnesses, but nonetheless alert, funny and wise. He became the model for the blind man David, and his experiences as a Navy lieutenant during World War II became the template for David’s war experiences.

Also at this time, a friend’s mother was slipping into Alzheimer’s. We’d greet her with “Hello,” and she’d respond in the most bizarre way, but just close enough to some mark to make you wonder, “Hey, does she know something I don’t?” So my friend’s mother became the model for Agnes, the Oracle at the Delphi.

Eventually, all of these ideas and characters began to criss-cross and merge. I’m especially grateful to my son, Kit, and his friends for their unwitting help. I remember one night checking on Kit as he slept and whispering, “Thank you—thank you!”

Holly: Who inspires your writing?

Conrad: My kids and their friends. I love to hear them speak—because their collective voice mixes confidence, frailty, arrogance, timidity, enthusiasm, laziness, idealism, courage, cadence, spontaneity, and so much more. Basically, all kids are centrally engaged in the evolution of language—their minds make dazzling linguistic leaps that older minds can’t. As a result, new words get born every second. I’d be doing dishes or driving them somewhere and these kids would be handing me golden nuggets, so to speak.

Holly: How has your life illuminated your writing?

Conrad: All things of the heart—love, regret, joy, disappointment, and so much more—help you to write your story. You can’t write without living; observing alone doesn’t work. If you can take a personal disappointment or tragedy, for example, and weave it into your every day, it can heighten and sharpen everything around you, so that you see and appreciate more intensely. The line of a tree becomes more graceful, or the glint in a child’s eye more startling. Understanding that things are hitched together is a vital part of being a writer. It’s a never-ending, bewildering, extraordinary journey. I’m still just getting started.

Holly: What do you hope your readers will take away?

Conrad: Jonathan, the main character, wants to give up—because something terrible has happened to him. But the people closest to him won’t let him. I’m reminded of what Winston Churchill said to the students at Harrow School in the darkest hour of World War II—what Churchill called the “finest hour.” It’s the message echoed by old Agnes the Oracle, and it’s what I hope readers will take away: “Never give up. Never give up. Never, never, never, never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty--never give up.”

Conrad shares writing secrets:
I’d like to share my “sneeze analogy.” The way I plot a novel pretty much parallels the way I sneeze. That's because a good story, like a good sneeze, both contain:

1. The "inciting moment" when you know something's going to happen and all other thoughts fly out of your head.
2. The mindful build-up that contains a sense--and hope--of inevitable culmination.
3. The culmination itself--very cathartic and satisfying.
4. The mopping up.


Ha! Thanks, Conrad!

YOU WANT TO READ THIS BOOK! So leave a comment. ;)
You have until Monday at midnight to tell us a) why you want to read ADIOS, NIRVANA, b) have you ever wanted to give up because of loss or hardship, and what was the outcome, or c) if you're a writer or aspiring writer, what is the process of writing like for you?

Oooh, and check out the trailer (set in Seattle and starring Conrad's teen son and daughter):


  1. I'll be back to comment on this, I've been dying to read this one, but I wanted to share this with you Holly:

    You have won an award over on my blog, The Mod Podge Bookshelf. Come on over and check it out!


    You can grab the image off of my blog.

    Gabrielle Carolina <3

  2. I've heard such good things about this....love reading male pov's, also.

    jpetroroy at gmail dot com

  3. Why I want to read Adios, Nirvana: It’s really not a matter of want, it’s a matter of need. There are books that spark an interest in a reader beyond “entertainment.” This interview is the flint and kindling of that fire in me. I have to read it.

    I’ve wanted to give up: What was the outcome? Well, to put it bluntly, I’m here, aren’t I, so I guess I knew that there was something truly worth living for amid the struggle and defeat.

    Writing for me: My book is filled with characters and who I am writing dictates how I write. The strongest character gives me the greatest difficulty, she has a harder time telling me giving me her mind. In great contrast, my sweetheart character, the one with her heart on her sleeve, let’s me jot down exactly how she’s feeling whenever she feels it. Some nights are harder then others, but some stories just have to be told.


    Gabrielle Carolina <3

  4. Thanks for the interview, Holly and Conrad. Have so been wanting to read this book, especially after reading a couple of Conrad's interviews! I'm completely intrigued (and enjoyed the trailer too).

    As for b) I don't think I've ever wanted to give up. I think that comes from having watched a best friend give up on life at a really young age. I grew up a lot after experiencing that loss, and giving up (on anything) from that point forward has never been an option for me.

    And c)...I like Conrad's sneeze analogy. I think, at the moment, the writing process feels like a very messy and over-stuffed closet. You take time filling it up and shoving stuff in here and there. Then you've got take it all out, decide if it's worth keeping...usually making an even bigger (and overwhelming) mess. But once you put it all back in place, and get rid of the unnecessary, what you've got is something pretty great! (At the moment, I'm in the stuffing-things-in part, not looking forward to the mess to come, and hopinghopinghoping that I'll get to the state of everything in it's place.)

  5. I want to read "Adios Nirvana" because of the cover it's soooooo cool looking!

    thanks, Marie Oliva

  6. I'd love to read this book because it sounds like something I would enjoy :D